Located about an hour north of Moscow in Star City, the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center offers a glimpse into the Soviet space program that was once off-limits to outsiders. Named after Yuri Gagarin, the first man to fly in space, the training facility sits in a densely forested area, its whereabouts unknown for years as the United States and the former Soviet Union battled for space supremacy. Today, it continues to train Russian cosmonauts but is open to the public. A guided tour of the facility makes for a unique experience while visiting Moscow.
Administered by the Russian Federal Space Agency since 2009, the training center features full-size mock-ups of all major spacecraft developed since the Soviet era, including the Soyuz – which was built in the 1960s to take astronauts to the Soviet space stations – and the space shuttle Buran. It also has a zero-gravity training aircraft to simulate weightlessness, a model of the International Space Station sitting in water so astronauts can practice working outside of it in neutral buoyancy, and the largest centrifuge in the world with a radius of 60 feet. Visitors can also check out the planetarium with 9,000 stars and the original office of Yuri Gagarin, as well as other monuments to Gagarin and other cosmonauts. Some visits may even include training activities such as working in the Orlan spacesuit and practicing rescue operations.